Clarity needed on problems at Income Tax

A COUPLE of years ago, government was gearing up to spend £200m. on something it called future digital services. There was an emphasis on computers, servers and use of the cloud – data access via the internet.

Today, a vital component of government and a key element of digital services – the Income Tax office – is facing accusations of being unfit for purpose, despite encouraging islanders to submit returns online.

This is no storm in a teacup. More than 5,000 are facing penalties and fines despite most arguing they had done what the authority asked them to do and filed a return. The distress these warning letter create, especially for older islanders, is considerable.

There are two issues here – why, in 2021, tax still appears unable to provide an adequate level of service, and the poor level of explanation so far provided.

Yes, it handled close to £350m. in payments from an estimated 39,000 individual taxpayers in 2019 and a further £62m. from companies, but this is hardly a surprise. Its workload has merely increased incrementally over the years.

Back in 2012 when it had similar capacity problems, it asked people to stop calling on a Thursday and stay away in the afternoon while it caught up with a backlog of tax returns. When that ended four years later, ‘legacy issues’ were blamed while the department modernised.

Now, despite two lockdowns – in effect, back-to-back customer-free Thursdays – the service it provides is again in disarray.

What, taxpayers are entitled to ask, were staff doing while on full pay and working from home? The perfect opportunity to catch up on paperwork. If other States departments have had similar difficulties, they were remarkably discrete about it.

Transforming government services is a central plank of this Assembly’s manifesto and ensuring government becomes more effective is part of Policy & Resources’ pledges for this year.

It owes islanders and taxpayers a clear and unambiguous explanation of what has gone wrong this time – and a roadmap of how errors will be prevented in the future.

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